Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Staff Ride Guide

Were you aware that there is a revised version of the Wildland Fire Staff Ride Guide that was released in November 2010.

In "Forest Service Practice #15 - Staff Rides" Jim Cook, U.S. Forest Service Fire Training Projects Coordinator and Chairman of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, compiled the following information regarding staff rides. For complete information, visit the Staff Ride Library in the Leadership Toolbox.

A staff ride is essentially a case study that is conducted on the ground where the event happened. In application, leaders revisit the scene of past fires to examine and analyze the decisions and actions that occurred on those fires. A well designed staff ride involves three phases: the first phase is a directed preliminary self-study that engages participants in reading and information gathering about the selected incident; in the second phase, participants visit the actual site of the incident as a group, accompanied by a cadre of subject matter experts; and the third phase is an integration session that allows participants an opportunity to share and discuss the insights and lessons they derived from the preliminary study and the site visit.

The intent of a staff ride is to put participants in the shoes of the decision makers on a historical incident in order to learn for the future. A staff ride should not be a tactical-fault finding exercise. Participants should be challenged to push past the basic question of "What happened?" and examine the deeper questions of leadership and decision-making: "What would I have done in this person's place?" "How detailed should the guidance from a superior to a subordinate be?" "Can a senior leader make use of a competent but overzealous subordinate?" "What explains repeated organizational success or failure?" The study of leadership aspects in a staff ride transcend time and place.

The staff ride concept was developed by the Prussian Army in the nineteenth century. The U.S. Army War College adopted the technique in 1906. In the 1970's the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps turned to staff rides with great enthusiasm and now they are considered essential educational techniques for advanced military schools as well as for operational field units. In 1999, the wildland fire service conducted its first formal staff ride at the site of the Dude Fire on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.

Beginning in 2001, the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program began a national on-line Staff Ride Library to support the use of the technique at all organizational levels. Currently there are more than a dozen nationally significant historical incidents with complete staff ride packages developed and archived in the library. Staff rides are used as a delivery method for the L-580 Leadership is Action course that is targeted for Incident Management Team command and staff positions. In addition, a number of local field units have begun to develop staff rides for locally significant incidents.

Staff rides are a superb tool for developing the decision-making skills of leaders at all levels. The 2002 National Fire Plan fully endorses the use of staff rides as a decision-making and leadership development tool for fire management personnel at all levels and lists the implementation of this technique as Task G1B / Item 4 in the Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy.

Ideas for Wider Use:
  • Utilize staff rides to add an experiential learning aspect to key leader position courses such as Initial Attack and Extended Attack Incident Commander, Type 2 Burn Boss, and Local Fire Management Leadership.
  • Utilize staff rides for team building and continuing education at regional and national meetings.
  • Utilize staff rides for all hazard incident learning.
Critical Success Factors:
  • Experienced facilitation. An effective learning environment can only be created by a cadre of facilitators that have a combined background in fostering open two-way interaction among participants and a thorough understanding of the events being focused on during the staff ride.
  • Multiple perspectives. A staff ride should avoid be a recital of a single investigation report. Such reports rarely address the human factors that affect individual decision-making. For this reason, providing participants with a variety of information sources is important, especially in the preliminary study phase.
  • Logistical pre-planning. Staff rides are an educational event delivered in a field setting. Time needs to be dedicated to addressing the logistical aspects of moving people to and around the site as well as the location and timing of the various stops during the site visit and integration phases.
  • Experiential learning
  • Leadership development
  • Learning from past mistakes and successes
  • Emotional imprint from “real” past events

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